This weekend, I came across an intriguing podcast titled, “The Blindness of Exuberance – Mike Daisey and the Apple Factory.” The podcast is based on a famous journalism case known as “Truthiness: This American Life and the Monologist” details the difficult decision TAL is faced with when discovering the subject of one of their most popular radio shows, Mike Daisey, fabricated approximately half of his “nonfiction” broadcast. This dilemma is especially problematic for TAL, as unlike most deceitful news that is published as true, TAL was completely unaware of Daisey’s lies. Although this inaccurate story has already been listened to by thousands of TAL’s loyal listeners, I believe this is an example of an ethically defensible error. Considering TAL “followed its usual procedures” in fact-checking and contacting a variety of industry sources, it is clear they deemed Daisey’s story to be accurate and truthful. However, the radio station should have further investigated Daisey’s main source, translator Anna “Cathy” Lee, after Daisey stated her phone numbers “just weren’t going through”. If TAL had taken similar steps as reporter Rob Schmitz, such as contacting China correspondents and googling “Cathy Shenzhen,” the crisis they are currently in could have been prevented.
Although it can be extremely challenging to determine the dependability of a source, if TAL abides to the NPR ethics handbook, which opposes letting “sources offer anonymous opinions of others” and advises avoiding “pseudonyms for sources whose names we [NPR] withhold,” their chances of experiencing mendacious sources would be less likely.
In all honesty, I believe the standards of truth should be equally abided in both journalism and other nonfiction genres. If one publishes their work as a nonfiction piece, whether it’s a monologue, article or radio broadcast, it should be completely factual—distinguishing the truth from a lie should be strictly black and white without any gray zones.
To regain audience trust, TAL must be straightforward and apologetic. In fact, I believe the uncovering of Mike Daisey is just as intriguing as the original broadcast. If Rob Schmitz agreed to an interview, TAL could dedicate an entire episode discussing Schmitz’s trip to China and the importance of source accuracy.